The Rosauers Open Invitational will turn 25 years old in a couple of weeks, a perfect time to walk down memory lane of the richest tournament in the PGA’s Pacific Northwest section.
Our tour guides will be Indian Canyon host pro Gary Lindeblad, The Spokesman-Review archives and my eyes on a few occasions.
It was Lindeblad who sat in tournament committee meetings, annually suggesting the importance of starting a tournament in Spokane. A committee member finally looked at Lindeblad and said, “You’ve been telling us that for years. When is it going to happen?”
Lindeblad asked for dates on the golf calendar and began the planning process. He knew he needed help with the enormity of the task and placed his first call to Mark Gardner, then a Manito assistant pro. Manito head pro Steve Prugh quickly jumped on board, followed later by MeadowWood’s Bob Scott, and the project took flight.
Two Manito members, Tom Williams and the late Fred Stejer, suggested the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery as a possible charity. Rosauers stepped up as a title sponsor. It’s been an ideal arrangement for more than two decades, Lindeblad said. Through last year, the tournament has raised $2.1 million for the nursery.
“It’s their 25th anniversary, too. They were kind of a fledgling charity when we started,” Lindeblad said. “It’s been very rewarding and it’s not just the $2 million, but what the tournament has really done is it’s established relationships with so many people and product vendors that contribute directly to the nursery. A few of the Rosauers people are on their Board of Trustees.
“The true financial impact on the nursery is twice that, maybe three times that.”
The tournament, which takes place July 13-15 following a two-day pro-am, produces wonderful theater on the 6,255-yard layout at venerable Indian Canyon. Manito assistant Corey Prugh aced the 224-yard eighth and eagled the par-5 18th in the final round last July to capture his second title in three years.
Lindeblad recalled one year when a sponsor was offering free mobile phones and plans to anyone who made a hole-in-one.
“We had six aces that year,” Lindeblad said. “This was when the big, brick phones were in vogue and they were expensive. The vendor was just dying.”
Cody Upham, the only amateur champion in tournament history, ripped up the front side with a 7-under 28 on his way to the 2007 title. Nick Ellis, who played at Washington State University, fired a front-nine 28 in 2008.
Birk Nelson matched the course record of 61 in 2007. MeadowWood’s Scott shot a 61 in a Rosauers pro-am. Corey Prugh set the tournament record with a 21-under 192 in 2009. Bob Rannow, one shot back entering the final round, played the first four holes in 3 under and lost two shots to 2005 winner Ryan Benzel.
The Canyon’s drivable 267-yard par-4 17th and closing par-5 that’s reachable in two often create dramatic finishes – good or bad. Walter Porterfield Jr., the 1993 champion, had a chance at another title with the lead on the 18th tee, but he made triple bogey. Tom Sovay was four shots up with 10 holes left but was caught by Michael Combs, who beat Sovay in a playoff to win in 2003.
Gardner, in contention in the 1998 event, took an eight on the 15th when his approach from 100 yards sailed over the green into a bush. Instead of taking an unplayable lie, the Creek at Qualchan pro tried swinging left-handed with the blade of a 9-iron turned upside down, but the club face kept getting tangled up.
Lindeblad had the bush grinded up and the contents put in a bag. Ever the prankster, Lindeblad asked one of his assistants to deliver the bag to Gardner with a note: “Mark, here’s the most expensive bush in the world.”
The bag never made it to Gardner.
“He chickened out because Mark has somewhat of a temper,” Lindeblad said.
In 2001, Kevin Bishop blew a one-shot lead on the 17th when he yanked a 3-iron into the trees left. The likeable pro from Olympia made triple bogey and Casey McCoy claimed the title. Bishop, who had proposed to his future wife on the 18th hole at a previous Rosauers, started wondering if 3-iron was too much club during his backswing.
“That cost me a lot of money (roughly $8,000),” Bishop told retired S-R golf writer Steve Bergum. “I’m glad my wife wasn’t here to see that.”
Can’t wait to see what the next 25 years bring.